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Hemochromatosis and Hypothyroidism

Identifying and Treating This Iron Overload Condition

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Updated April 14, 2005

hemachromatosis kit
A little known condition that affects the blood is more common in people who are hypothyroid and those 40 to 60 years of age. Hemochromatosis -- also known as genetic iron poisoning or iron overload disease -- is an inherited disorder that results from excessive iron absorption from food. Hemochromatosis is the most common genetic disease in the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition to an estimated 37 million "silent carriers" of hereditary hemochromatosis, the U.S. has another 2 to 3 million Americans who are at high risk for having hereditary hemochromatosis.

Genetic testing for the disease has been commercially available through doctors' offices since 1997, but most patients have never been tested for it. This is a tragic health situation, because the effects of hemochromatosis can be devastating, and include: hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue, infertility, arthritis, diabetes, sudden heart attack, primary liver cancer, and liver failure/heart failure resulting in the need for a liver and/or heart transplant.

Symptoms of hemochromatosis include:

  • ongoing fatigue
  • arthritis-like pain in joints, in particular, the middle two fingers
  • loss of libido (sex drive), impotence
  • early absence of menstrual periods
  • changes in skin color, yellowish, bronze, grey, olive
  • redness in the palms
  • abdominal pain
  • shortness of breath
  • heart arrhythmia
  • depression
  • elevated blood sugar
Hemochromatosis is treated through "bloodletting" or phlebotomy -- basically, the simple process of giving blood -- and is the treatment of choice for the disease.

Hemachromatosis is not easy to diagnose, as it is not revealed in routine blood work. Serum iron, which is a more common test used to evaluate iron levels, is not considered reliable for diagnosis of hemachromatosis. Being told your "iron levels are normal" does not mean that you have been tested properly for hemachromatosis.

Now, however, there are "do it yourself" direct tests for hemachromatosis that may help the many undiagnosed people discover this often hidden condition. Sandra Thomas, founder and president of the non-profit American Hemochromatosis Society, is recommending family genetic screening for hereditary hemochromatosis (HH) through HealthCheckUSA, a company that offers health testing products in a number of categories.

If you have symptoms of hemachromatosis, or any family history of the disease, you'll want to order a painless hemochromatosis DNA genetic test kit (performed with a swab on the cheek) as well as the iron blood tests-transferrin saturation percentage and serum ferritin tests that diagnose hemochromatosis. No doctor's prescription is required to order these tests.

Having a thyroid condition also puts you at increased risk of the opposite problem, anemia, a deficiency of iron. For more information, read Iron, Anemia and Hypothyroidism.

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